Blog 126: Wuyi Oolong (Yancha): The Assessment of “Maocha/毛茶” (Part III)
In our recent tea blogs, we’ve been discussing how our tea makers assess the quality of Maocha (in oolong tea-making, “Maocha/毛茶” refers to half-processed tea leaves before roasting). If you haven’t checked our last 2 blogs, we highly recommend reading them before continuing with this blog. (See Blog 124 and Blog 125 for details)
After assessing the quality of dry leaves, the tastes and the aromas, our tea makers can perform the final assessment of “the Leaf Bottom/叶底”. (Please see Blog 59 for more)
The Leaf Bottom, or Ye Di/叶底 in Chinese, refers to tea leaves after rounds of infusions. The Leaf Bottom reveals the most authentic quality of tea leaves. The Leaf Bottom is also a crucial indicator of “Maocha”, and it tells our tea makers what has happened to fresh leaves during the preliminary tea-making.
One unique thing about Maocha’s leaf bottom is the color. Since Maocha leaves are not yet roasted, they still retain the green color from fresh leaves and the red color from the fermentation (also called “the shaking process/摇青”). Experienced tea makers can determine how well leaves are fermented from just one look at the leaves. Roasted leaves, on the other hand, would acquire a dark color which makes the green and the red less distinct.
In Wuyi oolong tea-making, the best quality “leaf bottom” has an appearance described as “green leaf with red edge”, or “绿叶红镶边" in Chinese. If a Maocha leaf has a clear brownish green color with a distinct and balanced red edge, it indicates a good tea-making.
If the “red edge” is inconsistent or inapparent, it means Maocha leaves are either damaged, improperly fermented (shaken), or incorrectly withered. Such leaves are more likely to develop an unpleasant dry and bitter mouthfeel after months in storage.
Maocha leaves with too much “green part” or “red part” are both considered as “unqualified”. Too much “green” means leaves are not fermented (shaken) enough; too much “red” means leaves are over-fermented. If Maocha leaves are nothing but “red”, we considered the leaves are “dead” and not suitable for the roasting process.
Besides the color, there are 3 more details our tea makers need to check: the expandability, the completeness, and the softness.
Good quality Maocha has a great expandability. Dry Maocha leaves should be able to expand in hot water. Maocha leaves with poor expandability are often caused by early harvests and/or an exceedingly high drying temperature after “the rolling process”.
Whether Maocha leaves are complete shows us the quality of “the rolling process/揉捻“. If Maocha leaves are broken after a few infusions, it usually indicates that leaves were “rolled” too hard. Broken leaves will not make a perfect tea product, and they often lack of durability. Well-made, complete leaves can last more than 9 infusions, and broken leaves commonly last fewer infusions.
Finally, good Maocha leaves are soft, flexible and bright. If we pick a Maocha leaf up and twist it, it shouldn’t break apart easily. If Maocha leaves are stiff and dim, it means either fresh leaves were harvest too late, withered too hard, or burned in the drying process.
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